When Cynthia Maung saw the suffering of fellow refugees who had fled Burma‘s crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising in the late 1980s and sought sanctuary in neighbouring Thailand, she knew she had to do something about it.
Cynthia, a doctor, decided to rally other medical professionals in the refugee camps in northwestern Thailand to help her open a clinic in the border town of Mae Sot.
Starting in 1988 with only four beds, the clinic has developed into a fully-fledged health facility providing inpatient services, surgery and trauma care, dental care, vaccinations and HIV prevention.
It treats more than 75,000 patients a year.
“The number of patients that arrive at the clinic each year is on the rise,” said Dr Cynthia, who received an international award on Wednesday in recognition of her humanitarian work.
“We also train health workers and provide outreach services for patients who require access to medical attention closer to their communities,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“But the biggest challenge we face is in dealing with the trauma suffered by the displaced and their concerns about food, health care and job insecurities,” she said before she was due to receive the AidEx Humanitarian Hero of the Year Award in Brussels.
Dr Cynthia, from the Karen ethnic group, said she was concerned about a military crackdown in western Burma which has forced hundreds of Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh, trying to escape violence that has brought the number of dead confirmed by the army to more than 130.
Some of the Rohingya were gunned down as they tried to cross the Naf River that separates Burma [officially known as Myanmar] and Bangladesh, while others arriving by boat were pushed away by Bangladeshi border guards and may be stranded at sea, residents said.
The bloodshed is the most serious since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in the western Burmese state of Arakan [Rakhine] in 2012. It has exposed the lack of oversight of the military by the seven-month-old administration of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Fighting along the borders is still going on. That has left thousands of people displaced as a result and there hasn’t been much improvement in regions still controlled by the military,” Dr Cynthia said.
“… those especially from ethnic minorities remain very anxious about their future. They want to see if the government in Burma will be all inclusive.”
Mae Sot in Thailand is home to thousands of refugees from Burma who have fled conflict and violence, as well as tens of thousands of migrant workers, many of whom are in low-skilled, backbreaking jobs.
“As long as there is a need for us to be here and there are refugees and migrant workers that need protection, medical care and support, we will continue to be here and do what we do,” Dr Cynthia said.